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Factbox-Democratic U.S. Congress could bring better green cars, more pressure on tech

(Reuters) - U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s party appears poised to control Congress as well as the presidency, with two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia likely to go to Democrats, which could mean Corporate America faces stricter regulation on everything from auto emissions to prescription drug prices.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden delivers remarks on national security and foreign policy at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. December 28, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Democrats have won one of the Georgia seats with the second leaning their way. Here are six key industries that could change under Democrats, with the caveat that the margin of control would be razor-thin.

AUTOMAKERS

Democratic control of Washington would make it likely that automakers will once again face tougher carbon emissions targets. Biden has pledged to let California require zero-emission vehicles, which the Trump administration had challenged, and improve fuel-efficiency standards.

The auto industry could also get more help with a transition to electric vehicles if Biden can deliver on promises to expand electric vehicle tax credits and fund charging infrastructure.

Biden has identified a team to oversee environmental and climate policy, including former Obama EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy at the White House, who will be pivotal in defining new climate standards for the auto industry.

Strong advocates of climate action also could have an easier path to confirmation and could put more pressure on automakers after four years of relatively hands-off regulation.

TECH

The regulatory cloud over Big Tech is not likely to dissipate, with some Democrats eager to go even further than the Trump administration in scrutinizing practices at Alphabet Inc’s Google, Apple Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Facebook Inc. The Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against Google, filed last October, is expected to continue and could even be broadened.

A Biden administration and a Democratic Congress could also mean new privacy regulations and a revision of a key law that protects internet companies from liability for the content posted on their services. But tech companies have many friends among Biden advisers, including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and will fight hard to water down any new laws.

The biggest changes for the tech sector could come on China and trade policy. The fate of China-owned TikTok, if not sealed before Inauguration Day, could be an early test of Biden’s approach. Tech companies hope a Biden administration will take a less confrontational approach than President Donald Trump, although few analysts expect a quick return to warm U.S.-China relations.

Tech companies stand to benefit from any rollback of Trump-era restrictions on worker immigration, while gig economy companies like Uber Technologies Inc, Lyft Inc and DoorDash Inc could come under pressure over classifying gig workers as independent contractors with lower benefits and protections than employees.

Democrats in control of two branches of the U.S. government may mean a higher tax bill: tech companies were among the biggest beneficiaries of Trump’s reduction in corporate income tax rates.

PHARMACEUTICALS

The pharmaceutical industry has spent millions on lobbying and campaign contributions to head off a push by Congress to slash U.S. drug prices, a possibility that has become more likely with Biden as U.S. president-elect and with Democrats expected to hold a slim Senate majority.

Biden has vowed to reduce drug costs and to allow Medicare, a U.S. government health insurance program, to negotiate drug prices. He has support from Democratic lawmakers to pass such legislation, which the Congressional Budget Office has said could cost the industry more than $300 billion by 2029.

One silver lining for the industry is that Biden’s promise to expand health insurance coverage to more Americans through the creation of a government-run health insurance option could lead to more people being able to afford drugs, boosting demand for drugmakers’ products.

MINING

Democratic control of Washington is likely to mean an increase in domestic production of lithium, copper and other metals used to make electric vehicles and other environmentally friendly products crucial in the push to reduce carbon emissions.

Where such mines will be developed, though, and how large they will be is likely to be a major point of conflict within the Democratic government, with aggressive climate plans - including the Green New Deal favored by many progressives - seemingly at odds with the bipartisan push to boost U.S. manufacturing.

Neither Biden nor many congressional candidates talked much about mining during their campaigns, either for or against.

For his part, Biden has set lofty goals of making the United States a carbon-neutral nation by 2035, a plan that can be achieved only with wind turbines, solar panels and other materials made from mined rock.

MEDIA

News organizations may see a dip in their audiences once Biden takes office. He is less incendiary than Trump and less likely to use social media, so “doomscrolling” readers of negative news may find less ire and fewer conspiracy theories from Biden and fellow Democrats than from Trump.

Trump could still generate headlines, via potential post-White House legal battles or remarks on his own platform.

To be sure, with a COVID-19 vaccine not expected to be generally available in the United States until mid-2021, homebound Americans are likely to continue to seek clarity from the media about what happens next, and a united government could produce news-making progress on policy issues.

RETAIL/TRADE

Trump has imposed $370 billion in tariffs on goods imported from China, part of his “America First” agenda. Those tariffs on products ranging from handbags to small electronics are estimated to have cost U.S. importers some $61.6 billion through early September, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and have been blamed for eroding U.S. manufacturing competitiveness.

Retailers argue the tariffs raised prices for consumers and cost U.S. jobs, and they hope that Biden will re-evaluate the policy.

Reporting by Helen Coster, Carl O’Donnell and Tina Bellon in New York; David Shepardson in Washington; Ernest Scheyder in Houston; Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles and Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif.; Editing by Peter Henderson and Matthew Lewis

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